The US Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, DC, US on December 28, 2022.

Chelyal Gunesh | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Supreme Court has delayed a decision on whether to hear a pair of cases challenging social media laws in Texas and Florida that could change the way platforms decide which posts to remove and which to promote.

On Monday, the court asked the US solicitor general to provide information on cases brought by technology industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA). The groups argue that the laws infringe on companies’ First Amendment rights to determine what speech they will conduct.

Republican leaders in Texas and Florida are pushing the legislation as a way to counter what they say is unfair censorship of conservative viewpoints on social media. Major platforms claim that they are simply enforcing their terms of service.

NetChoice and the CCIA have warned that if the social media laws come into force, they will force platforms to store posts even if they make false statements about highly sensitive topics. Examples include “Russian propaganda that justifies its invasion of Ukraine, ISIS propaganda that justifies extremism, neo-Nazi or KKK crusaders that deny or support the Holocaust, and encourage children to engage in risky or unhealthy behaviors such as disorders food,” the groups wrote in an emergency filing, trying to block the Texas law from taking effect.

The Supreme Court ruled to temporarily block the Texas law without ruling on the merits of the case. An appeals court also temporarily blocked Florida’s law from taking effect. The laws remain in limbo as the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the cases.

Next month, the court plans to hear two other cases that could also change the business models of major platforms. One in particular, Gonzalez v. Google, directly addresses whether algorithms that promote and organize information on websites can be protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields online services from liability for their users’ messages. If a court decides that websites should be more accountable for how third-party messages are shared, social media companies could change the way they operate to reduce their legal exposure.

NetChoice and the CCIA said the court’s request for information is a good sign.

“We are very pleased that the Supreme Court is taking our cases seriously and asking the Solicitor General to take action to review them,” NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese said in a statement. “We expect the solicitor general to recognize the websites’ First Amendment rights and urge the Supreme Court to take up the case and find for NetChoice and CCIA.”

CCIA president Matt Schruers agreed that the inquiry “highlights the importance of these cases”.

“It is very important that the Supreme Court ultimately decides this issue,” Schruers said, “It would be a dangerous precedent to allow the government to interfere with private companies’ decisions about what material to publish or distribute online. The First Amendment protects both the right to speak and the right not to be compelled to speak, and we should not underestimate the consequences of giving the government control over online speech in a democracy.”

Representatives of the Texas and Florida attorneys general did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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